This interactive gizmo is making it easier for designers to explore the ambient UIs of tomorrow’s gadgets.
Smart devices will undoubtedly continue to proliferate over the coming years. With billions of these connected gizmos expected to hit the market and ultimately make their way into our homes, this leaves one important question: How do you communicate with an Internet-enabled appliance when it doesn’t have a screen? Think about it: Your toothbrush. Your robotic vacuum. Your cooking utensils. Typically speaking, these sort of items emit luminescent cues that are used to catch your attention only when in need of a battery charge or some sort of malfunction. That’s exactly the conundrum design firm Method has set out to solve with what they’re calling Henri.
“[At the moment], there isn’t an easy way to design that. You need someone with fairly strong programming skills,” Daniel Nacamuli, Method’s lead interaction designer explains.
Instead, Henri is an interactive gadget that wants to make it easier for designers to explore the ambient user interfaces of IoT devices. The device has been developed to function as an abstract stand-in for a connected home product such your smart lights, thermostats or locks. Housed in a wooden enclosure, the system is comprised of a central box, two control panels and a desktop user interface. The main console is packed with an Atmel based Arduino, a round set of LED lights, and a built-in speaker.
Two control panels of steel knobs are linked to Henri, enabling users (even without any sort of coding background) to easily experiment with enchanted interface elements. With just a few turn of its dials, designers can devise a wide-range of patterns of lights and sounds with varying pulses, hues, intensities and durations (zero to 16 seconds), as well as watch them play back in real-time on its central hub.
The Arduino is tasked with recording the sequence and relaying it back to the desktop interface for storage. The main box also syncs with synthesizers so users can simultaneously create sound cues. Later, Henri can reprogram all of this into the final piece of hardware.
Additionally, Henri will certainly come in handy for designers across a plethora of industries like gaming. “You could use the controller to fine tune animation on a screen. Say your animation is of the sun setting and that sun is going to move down. Normally they’ll use some animation software with a timeline. What could feel more natural, is to turn the dial on the Henri, to turn the speed,” Nacamuli tells Wired.
This interactive device is merely one component of Method’s overall efforts to raise awareness around the design of ambient user interfaces for the Internet of Things. The firm unveiled the Henri box as part of a workshop earlier this year in its Bay Area office during San Francisco’s IxDA conference. There, attendees were paired in teams and asked to program light and sound patterns on the Henri to communicate test scenarios.
“After initial brainstorming, it was clear we could use this opportunity to solve a set of problems and roadblocks that have inhibited us from designing non-screen based products in our own practice,” the team writes. “Henri allows those concepts to be tested real-time, and enhance the overall capabilities of both the designer and the product. It helped people literally think outside of the box, and be productive while playing.”
Intrigued? Head over to the project’s case study here.